The USA will open the Algarve Cup this Sunday against Sweden, then meets Finland on Tues., March 16 and finishes first-round play with Norway on Thurs., March 18. That game could determine the berth in the championship game and perhaps feature a preview of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final.
The Americans arrived in the Algarve region on Portugal's Southern tip only to encounter heavy rains, forcing the cancellation of training on Wednesday and sending the U.S. players to the weight room. Thursday's training ended in similar wet conditions. Friday's training started under gray skies and was interrupted for 10 minutes when the U.S. players ran for cover as driving rain and hail pelted the soccer field, leaving the U.S. team still clamoring for the sun characteristic of this sea-side resort community with sprawling villas and numerous golf courses.
The U.S. team is approaching the Algarve Cup with great anticipation and eager to claim the top prize that has eluded them in four previous trips to the tournament. At last year's Algarve Cup, the USA went into its final first-round game against Norway needing a win, a tie or a loss by less than three goals to make the championship game. Instead, Norway shocked the USA, 4-1, handing the Americans their only loss of the year. The USA defeated Sweden, 3-1, to take third place.
"We're going to use this tournament as a dry run for the first-round and quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup," said U.S. Head Coach Tony DiCicco. "Because of the high level of competition, we'll be able to confirm what we are doing well and what we need to work on. The team is in a good place right now, and although Michelle Akers and Cindy Parlow are not 100 percent healthy, we are certainly motivated by the fact that we've never won here."
In 1993, the USA finished fourth at a six-team tournament held in Agai, Cyprus. In 1994, the Americans took second in the six-team event held for the first time in Portugal, falling in the championship game to Norway, 1-0. In 1995, the U.S. finished fourth again, this time in an expanded eight-team field, losing to Denmark 2-0 and then losing to Norway in a penalty kick shootout, 4-2, after tying 3-3 during regulation time in the match for 3rd place.
This year's Algarve Cup features six teams that will compete in this summer's Women's World Cup: Australia, Denmark, Sweden and top seeds China, Norway and the USA. U.S. forward Mia Hamm has a good shot at breaking the world scoring record during the tournament. With 104 career goals, she needs just three scores to tie all-time leader Elisabetta Vignotto of Italy. Hamm scored three goals in last year's tournament, all against China in a 4-1 victory.
The Americans come armed with two weapons that were missing last year in forwards Tiffeny Milbrett (105 caps/47 goals) and Cindy Parlow (43 caps/17 goals). Milbrett was on the trip, but was stricken by illness and only played in one match. Parlow missed the tournament due to school commitments, but is currently nursing a nagging hamstring injury and is listed as day-to-day. Michelle Akers is doing very well in her recovery from a broken cheekbone, but may not play full games, and DiCicco has taken her out of the mix on offensive and defensive corner kicks.